‘Thannal’ means shade. Thannal Hand Sculpted Homes is a Natural Building Awareness Group, based in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. Founded by natural building Architect , Biju Bhaskar and his wife Sindhu Bhaskar from 2011.
Thannal believes in Indian way of Learning. Indigenous knowledge in shelter making, which was practiced in India from the Vedic ages is what we explore and examine. Descriptions about pozzolanic reactions of suda (lime) and surkhi (burnt mud) are found in Vishnudharmottara’s Chitrasutra and how to use natural derivatives from plant and animals effectively in construction. India lacks legitimate documentation of indigenous knowledge in every field now, as many such sources have been either destroyed by foreign invasions and the existing sources are devoid of scientific explanations.
As we see in most of the ancient human settlements, people have lived in durable, comfortable buildings made from natural materials. A third of the world’s population today still lives in building constructed of Earth.
Houses are material extension of the way the people in it live. The components used in building a house are entangled in the day to day lives of the inhabitants. So, the materials which we use, the way it is used have a dominant effect on the way the house functions. Using natural materials without altering can minimise the effect on nature and thus can make us live in harmony with nature, just like a bird nesting on a tree.
If we look back to how self-sustaining villages were, amazing conclusions could be drawn. Buildings were made of mud and other materials procured from the vicinity. A Lime kiln supplied the requirements of a village then but now truckloads of cement (often transported from long distances) are required for a single house. So how much genuine a ‘sustainable’ building is, if it uses truckloads of manufactured materials? So natural buildings are a genuine solution to this scenario and for ‘Revival’ of indigenous methods.
When was Cement introduced in India? Were there no houses before that? After the absurd categorization of houses as ‘kuchha’ and ‘pucca’, today people want a ‘pucca’ cement house, but rarely think about the living conditions inside, which are way too uncomfortable from the traditional houses built in natural materials. Apart from being energy consuming, these conventional homes have many artificial chemicals, which are harmful to human body.
Alternative architectural practices also hybridize natural buildings by mixing cement and artificial chemicals into natural materials. This completely robs mud with its ‘breathing’ ability and turn itself rigid, like cement. While India is going through a positive change through Natural Farming, Alternate Education, Naturopathy, Natural Living, Organic Clothing and Food, Pure Natural Buildings are also a need of the hour.
Research and Documentation of such techniques, which are in the verge of getting wiped out is the primary source of knowledge for Thannal. As people who practiced such methods belong to the elder generation, it is essential to record them properly before they plunge into history. Application of the same is done on our projects to demonstrate and provide scope for scientific analysis. This can help in preserving knowledge systematically that it will be made available for the future generations.
Sustainable buildings need to be economically viable also, but lately alternative building solutions given by architects demands premium investment. This means only a few from the society can afford it, which is actually unfair. Mud was a poor man’s building material and we work to return this material to everyone by learning from native and cost effective techniques. We believe architecture can expand in more dimensions other than just concrete jungles but also in something which is more close to our body and soul. Thannal aims at a universal solution, applicable to both urban and rural contexts, with natural living being the crux.
We happily learn from our mistakes and traditional indigenous past to do better earth friendly homes. Thannal believes in creating a knowledge sharing platform for the same.
‘Respecting an Artisan’ series is where we portray the work of masters in native methods of construction, who entrusts us with traditional knowledge regarding use of mud, lime and plant and animal ingredients in a building. Therefore, Thannal has a ‘Revival series of art forms’, where an old style of work is revived by documenting and demonstrating it on our ongoing projects. This is a live demonstration of how viable is such techniques are in present day contexts without actually being over-dependent on manufactured materials. Time has come to actually amputate energy-intensive practices from the system, therefore we spread awareness among people about the hazardous effect of such practices on nature and inhabitants. We do not believe in making more natural buildings, but more capable natural builders.
We share our learnings through our workshops and publications. Many people who has attended the workshop have gone ahead to build their own houses, an ‘Owner’s Build’. We believe that as human beings we have the inborn capability to build our own shelter in the best way it suits our requirements. This way users can build a better connection with the home they live in.
People who had worked with Thannal for atleast throughout a project are called Thannalites. One has to go through research, documentation, know natural materials well and practice natural living to be a thannalite. We have Apprenticeship (three at a time) and Internship (two students at a time), who wish to work with us for long term and be a Thannalite. For people who cannot commit for a long term and yet intend to work with us can do volunteering at any of our on-going projects (depends on how many the owners can accommodate). We stress on spreading awareness among masses through our work but not on doing more and more projects.
Thannal Natural Building School, an initiative to train both learned persons and village students on a common platform. We believe in growing more villages in a sustainable way and therefore we intend to make more Natural Builders from a rural background also. People who have grown up in a context where buildings are made for needs not greed can grasp the ideology of Thannal better. Natural Buildings are for everyone who wish to lead a natural living regardless of the economic strata they belong to. We aim to prepare more people to serve this greater vision.
Natural Builders of India (NBI) is a platform started by Thannalites for natural builders from India, which would help nurture more natural builders everywhere in India. Such a platform is helpful in understanding diverse methods around India by exchange of resources and bringing out excellent adaptive solutions in front of the people. The projects by NBI will be examples in mitigating challenges of the specific geographic location regarding how to build with the local natural materials. Once NBI has its reach all around India, it will be a Pan-India solution for revival of natural buildings.
We believe in making architectural services affordable to everyone, so we do projects without any monetary reward but we accept gifts that contribute to Thannal’s growth. We earn only through natural building workshops held periodically in our campus. We look forward to grow more with aspiring natural builders as well as anyone whose skill can help us giving better natural homes to different parts of India and strictly restrain from manipulating natural materials by mixing other manufactured materials.